Editor’s Note: The Collegian is posting updates from University of Richmond swimming coach Matt Barany, who is in Buffalo, N.Y., for the 2011 Atlantic 10 Swimming & Diving Championships, which begin Feb. 23 and end Feb. 26. Richmond won its ninth A-10 Championship in 10 years after its eight-year run ended in 2010.
Feb. 27, 10:00 p.m.
Richmond, VA — I apologize for the delay.
Undeniably, our proudest moments of the week were our relays. Each year, we strive to sweep the relays – a feat that is dramatically difficult because many schools focus on winning one relay, so we are deflecting the best offensive from all directions. This year, we swept them in fine fashion:
200 Medley (Hines, Kobelja, Smaniotto, Brackett)
NCAA B cut
800 Free (Hines, Krebs, Kuska, Brackett)
NCAA B cut
200 Free (Hines, Kobelja, LePere, Brackett)
NCAA B cut
400 Medley (LePere, Kobelja, Smaniotto, Vucic)
400 Free (Hines, Kobelja, Vucic, Brackett)
NCAA B cut
Freshman Mali Kobelja was named “Rookie of the Year.” In actuality, I could have made a case for her as “Performer of the Year” as she was the only female to win three individual events (200 IM, 100 Breast, 200 Breast) at the meet. Her versatility helped us on the record setting relays, too, as she provided valuable freestyle legs. I’ll wonder aloud if her event line-up next year will look the same.
Sophomore Lauren Hines was named “Performer of the Year.” Cha, Jessie, and Lauren all won two events and placed second in an event. I believe the coaches, who vote on these awards, favored Lauren’s 100 Back as the distinguishing factor. As of tonight, Lauren is tied for 12th in the country and will look to race at the NCAA championship in Austin, TX in three weeks.
15 University of Richmond records were broken in 10 events – this includes the shattering of the 200 Free record on three occasions by three DIFFERENT people (Lauren, Jessie, and finally Cha). The Spiders set ten A-10 records in 8 different events.
We closed our weekend with a traditional meal at Pearl Street. It’s an opportunity for the families and team members to share and celebrate the success. It’s an opportunity for me to say the needed, yet sometimes difficult things.
I thanked the people who help our operation run on a very high level – Jay, Steve, Erika, and Daniele. Jay DeMayo, our strength & conditioning coach, barks, grunts, and whistles the women to be stronger – and they love every minute of it. Steve Purcell, our sports medicine trainer, plays the role of doctor, coach, and hip-hop dancer. Erika Matheis, our diving coach, continues to do a fantastic job rebuilding our diving program. Danielle Tansel, my assistant coach, is the strong-willed energy behind the operation.
There was a special moment in the evening for Dede Brodt, mother of Chrissy Brodt, when the parents thanked Dede for organizing our parent group. Dede deserves credit for her role to many of the swimmers as a “mother away from home.”
I had Alex Helland and Katie Sieben on my mind last night. It was their leadership during the 2010 championship that truly planted the seed for this championship. They deserve to celebrate with us. Before, during, or after last year’s championship loss, we never thought we were beatable. We always knew we were the best swim team. We could have made many poor choices that would have led us down an irretrievable path, but Alex and Katie made sure we made the right choices at the right time. They didn’t end their career with a trophy, but they gave us the idea we can’t be beat.
Athletics is education. Last November, the team met on a Monday afternoon to set the outline for what we wanted to accomplish this championship season. It wasn’t a basic goal-setting session. I believed we had an opportunity to define the strong fabric by which Richmond Swim & Dive could operate under for years to come. Our streak had ended and, yet, we might be sitting on the most talented Richmond roster ever. During the session, the ladies defined the five values by which to drive this program forward – pride, respect, courage, purpose, and selflessness. It was amazing to watch a group of college-aged women recognize and articulate that they wanted to be a team with distinguishable class. They wanted to win, but they wanted to do the right way. They wanted national recognition, and they knew they could do it. I’ve done my best to keep them honest, to keep them on track, and to remind them of their “way.” By all accounts, they were a class act this weekend.
It was emotional for me last night in asking the team and the parents to find a “reminder” of this year. I know these college women are impressionable. Part of me was born anew this year as they leave their impression on me, and I have watched something anew born in each of these women as I leave my impression on them. It is these impressions that I hope will last lifetimes.
The most gratifying and the most difficult moment of evening always occurs when the parents and seniors get the mic. It fills me with great honor and great sadness to listen to the seniors address the room. Their heart was gracefully on display last night. Their service to Richmond Swimming & Diving begins with their talent, but it was defined by their loyalty. They finished what they started, and they did it with great success. We never would have climbed back so quickly if it weren’t for their leadership and devotion to this team and me. Chrissy, Nicole, Natalie – your whispered words in my ear during each lasting hug will always be remembered. You have pressed against my life just as much as I have pressed against yours. Your mark will always be felt. You were the threads that connected the generations. I will miss you.
Last Sunday was filled with nerves and many questions. It’s one week later and our lives have changed. This Sunday was filled with many smiles and many answers. Ladies, you were simply amazing. I could not be more proud.
Thank you for reading these words. We appreciate your curiosity and willingness to learn more about our sport, our university, and our team. Thank you to the Collegian for sharing your us with your audience. You can always stay in touch via our Facebook page.
Feb. 27, 2:45 a.m.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — We won. I don’t have enough juice to finish the blog tonight. I will submit my last entry tomorrow night when I return with the team to Richmond. It was fun.
Feb. 26, 12:30 p.m.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Today tests your training. Not only are we swimming the longer events, but we’ll spend most of our day at the pool. Prelims has wrapped up; the milers start at 3:30; finals begin at 6:30; the season ending celebration with the parents won’t begin until 10:00-ish. Whoah.
Tonight will also be the release. The exhale of a year of very focused training; the freeing of spent excitement; the farewell of three seniors whose service and loyalty to our program are immeasurable. If we win, we will be filled and empty at the same time.
At this point in the meet, the chances of us winning the championship tonight are very strong. The challenge ahead of us is can we win and represent the University of Richmond with respect, purpose, selflessness, courage, and pride. That is the way the women said they wanted to win.
Feb. 26, 12:45 a.m.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Jessie delivered her spirited swimming-specific version of Herb Brooks’ speech from Miracle and it worked. The team was amazing. I am not equipped to comprehend the success at this point.
I asked the women to be “rare” tomorrow. The moment we are in is rare. It’s not often you have a team working at such a high level together over several days. It appears we are getting better as the meet goes on – I attribute that to our work ethic. A lot of people are average and enjoy the comforts of being average. Fortunately for us, this week has been anything but average. So, tomorrow will be one of those special days.
Our strategy going into tonight revolved around Lauren Hines’ 100 Back. In order to get an invite to the NCAA championship meet, a swimmer must be ranked in the top 30 in the country. Her time from the morning (53.51) put her approximately at 30th. If she were to lower her time below 53.20 in the individual 100 Back, we would take her off of the 400 Medley Relay. If she needed the relay to get another try at breaking 53.20, we would use her relay leg to try again at the 100 Back cut. (Because the A-10 meet is a week later this year, we don’t have an opportunity to attend a last chance meet. So, we needed every chance to try to get NCAA cuts.) I married Cha to Lauren, so if Lauren came off the relay so did Cha. I had faith that Nicole and Mina would rise to the challenge with Mali and Jill. It was a dangerous risk, but I trusted these ladies in either situation.
Lauren went well under 53.20 in her 100 Back. She put up the 10th fastest 100 Back (52.76) in the nation to guarantee her spot at the 2011 NCAA championship. Immediately, the relays changed. Nicole and Mina replaced Lauren and Cha. We trusted Nicole, Mali, and Jill to get Mina a lead she could defend. That didn’t happen. Mina is a strong girl, but she’s not our tallest swimmer. Her best times prior to this meet were from 2006 – a long time ago. Nobody would have blamed her if she couldn’t catch Fordham at the end. But she did. She stayed calm; she did her breathing exercises before the race; she nailed every turn; she put her head down from outside of the flags; she got her hand on the wall first. She was a brave woman and my gamble paid off – huge. Mina made me look like I knew what I was doing, and all of our guns will be loaded for tomorrow’s last relay.
These women have worked hard to be very good to each other. Tomorrow, I hope they love each other more than they ever have. We could proudly win a championship, together.
Feb. 25, 4:00 p.m.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — I’ve got to keep this one brief as time is against me. Luckily for me, I won’t have to prepare a “pre-game” speech for finals tonight. Jessie Krebs has asked permission to deliver the message and I obliged. I can guess her talk will be pertinent and hilarious. I’ll keep you posted.
Two of the many great swims that highlighted our morning:
1. Cha went a 1:49.21 to break Lauren’s newly minted 200 Free school record (1:49.33) from Wednesday night.
2. Lauren turned around and dropped the 30th fastest time in the country in her 100 break. She set a new A-10 and Richmond record with a 53.31.
We have the top seeds in 4 of the 5 individual events tonight – Jill’s 100 Fly, Cha’s 200 Free, Mali’s 100 Breast, Lauren’s 100 Back. Oh yeah, there will be more relay fun tonight! The fun and the smiles roll on…stay tuned…
Again, thanks for following our program and our sport. I appreciate your texts and e-mails of support.
Feb. 24, 11:45 p.m.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — We are expecting a snow storm tomorrow. I don’t think it will matter. As much as I hate to admit it, I think we’re having a special week. I don’t like admitting it because there is so much left to accomplish; however, I would be doing the women and their efforts a disservice by hiding their success. So, snow on Buffalo and snow on us, for it doesn’t matter at this point. These women are pretty damn good right now.
For every word I write here, there are a dozen of tales hidden in our lives. I want to tell you all of them – from Jessie stopping me after her prelim race to tell me she is “going way under 4:50” tonight to Mr. Turtle dancing to Chris Brown’s “Hands Up High” to Laura predicting her entire room is going to final in the 50 Free (THEY DID!) to our impressive display of sportsmanship on every level. I wish I had the words, the time, and your attention long enough to smile with you about this group.
Tonight’s message: We are in 10th place (we’re not – we’re in first), so let’s get to work tomorrow morning chasing down our goals. The women knew my tactic too well. I exaggerated the situation with hopes of motivating them to be even better tomorrow. They are aware of the scores tonight only because a huge scoreboard sits in the corner of the pool deck not because there was conversation. Lastly, tonight’s message was for them to continue to love each other. I have been blessed with more hugs than ever before. I thought it was because they were happy about their performances, but it’s mostly because they like getting my clothes wet. I challenged them to cheer, encourage, laugh, smile, dance, and love. This group is only together for two more days – how can we not live it with as much passion as possible?
I have posted a few pictures and videos on our Facebook page. I hope you’ll find your way and enjoy. We’re going to be great tomorrow. You should, too.
Feb. 24, 3:00 p.m.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Three events were contested during this morning’s prelims, but remember no points are scored in prelims. We will have 13 women fighting for points tonight in the 500 Free, 200 IM, and 50 Free (no diving events today). We have a good opportunity to close much of the point gap established by the leaders last night.
Last year, we had a backstroke army. This year, we have several versions of the freestyle army. We have 5 of the top 9 swimmers returning tonight to race the 500 Free, and we have 5 of the top 8 in the 50 Free. Actually, I think our distance group deserves the title “Freestyle Army.” The sprint group snuck up on everybody, so they’ll be our “Freestyle Special Ops.” We’re looking at two barriers tonight as Jessie Krebs (seated 1st in the 500) flirts with breaking 4:50 in the 500; she would be the first Spider to do so. Lauren Hines (seated 1st in the 50) will attempt to break the 23.00 barrier.
There is a lot of science behind our sport. Of course, the physics of moving through the water efficiently is important and we work on technique daily. Truly, I am fascinated most by the exercise physiology facet of our sport. I can’t get enough of it. We implemented several “new” ideas into our training this season, and I think we might keep these new discoveries around. (Alumni: I gave the team the option this year of opting in or out of the 40 x 50’s. All, but Cha, opted in. They think there is value to the set – are they smart or brainwashed?)
Lastly, several opposing coaches have hinted that it must feel good to work out the disappointment and frustration from last year. We stopped thinking about the 2010 meet long ago. We rarely focus on other teams. We’re not here to beat Fordham or the other eight. We’re here to be the best we can be. How often does the average person test his/her limit in anything? It’s about testing our upper limits. It’s about being better people; it’s not all about winning. Improvement is “why” we do it.
Feb. 24, 12:10 a.m.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — So, I learned today what really motivates these women. The team is abuzz. Normally, they are reserved when discussing potentially embarrassing incidents involving boys/men in front of me. Not today. Today was a competition as to who can brag the most about the professional hockey players in our hotel. “I was in the elevator when these men got on, and let me say they were 6’3’’ of gorgeousness.” It looks like I am in luck because the Sabres have two more home games while we’re in town, and hotel management has given me the golden “wink.”
Tonight was a fun night. Our divers scored on the 1m and our relays rocked. We’re currently third behind UMass and Fordham. I like it. We get to chase the leaders tomorrow. This is a role we grew to love last year.
200 Medley Relay
Back – Lauren Hines 24.86
Breast – Mali Kobelja 28.50
Fly – Jill Smaniotto 24.43
Free – Cha Brackett 22.32
New Richmond Record
New A-10 Record
NCAA B cut
* Alex Helland, Lauren Beaudreau, Katie Sieben, Cha Brackett held the old record from 2009. It’s worth noting that the currently banned LZR suits were approved and worn in 2009.
800 Free Relay
Lauren Hines 1:49.33 (New Richmond Record)
Jessie Krebs 1:49.41
Alexi Kuska 1:50.44
Cha Brackett 1:50.47
New Richmond Record
New A-10 Record
NCAA B cut
I’ll admit there is very little for me (or any swim coach) to do at this point in the season. I joke with the women that “I’m done, so I’m going to sit in the stands with the parents.” I try to use my time to observe the freshmen in the championship light. Are they ready? Are they shy? Are they bold? Do they believe in the preparation? It’s my fun experiment. Tonight, I was preparing to time freshman Mali Kobelja in a 25 Breast during warm-up. Mali had appeared more nervous than I had seen her before, but she had a plan. Nerves and a plan are dangerous because it usually means your nervous energy will find the right outlet. Mali stood up on the block as I turned to my assistant, Danielle, to tell her my perception of Mali’s nerves. Just as I was telling Danielle, “Mali’ is nervous…in a good way,” Mali started smiling, singing and dancing on the block. She went from game-face to Katy Perry dance moves instantly. I’m talking elaborate “reach for the sky” theatrics. At that point, I knew Mali was ready to race and happy.
Tonight’s message: Tonight’s performance was worthy of positive attention, but we move on and go to work in the morning. We are barely mentioning 2010 or any other team. Prelims start at 10:30 a.m.
Thank you for reading this and following our team. We appreciate your interest and support. I appreciate those who took the time to email and text me tonight – I’m inspired.
Feb. 23, 3:20 p.m.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — They were a zany bunch this morning. Unfortunately, I sat in the corner of the coaches meeting for two hours while they had their final prep in the pool before tonight’s relays. I fully trust these women, so I’m not concerned. I’m guessing their final tune-up included swimming AND song & dance.
Carinne Mettus (So) and Margot Hillyer (Fr), our divers, bravely start the meet for us tonight on the 1m. This is their first A-10 championship and we are stoked to have our diving program back!
200 Medley Relay
Back – Lauren Hines (So)
Breast – Mali Kobelja (Fr)
Fly – Jill Smaniotto (Jr)
Free – Cha Brackett (Jr)
800 Free Relay
Jessie Krebs (Fr)
Alexi Kuska (Jr)
Woooohooooooo. We will meet before finals tonight with a message of “positive team investment.” Although only 6 swimmers and 2 divers are participating (we have 19 total athletes) tonight, everyone plays a positive part in our success. Whhooooooooooaaaaaaaa! This is one small step and we will take it as a whole group. I can’t wait! Oh snap…calm down, Matt.
Feb. 22, 11:10 p.m.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Today was the more relaxed day of our journey. We traveled without major delay; thus, we were spared any unwanted anxiety. Normally, this meet would have been held last week, but for some reason the A-10 decided on this week. Maybe that’s why Buffalo seems warmer? Has spring arrived? Yeah, right.
It’s very difficult for me, as the proud Richmond coach, to step into the pool area at ECC and not replay many exciting performances and happy moments from year’s past – including last year. I remember 2006 (my first year with the team) fondly before it bends into 2007 and on and on. None of those races or championships can ever be replaced; instead, they can serve as pleasant inspiration. I’ve got former Spiders Katie Sieben (’10) and Alex Helland (’10) on my mind tonight.
Tonight’s coaches’ message to the team was rather simple: focus on the here and now. I literally meant here (the 23 people in the room) and the now (tonight). I have informed the ladies that Facebook doesn’t work in Buffalo and we have implemented fairly stringent cell phone rules in an attempt to keep the focus on here and now. We’re neither focusing on history nor the stakes. We’re not focusing on our parents or friends (and their nervousness & excitement). We’re not focused on other teams, their coaches, or their classless wall posts. We don’t need to get ahead of ourselves. We only need to be great for each other. We can be the best team right here and right now. We lost the A-10 championship last year. To us, that was last year’s story. The 2011 story is yet to be written. We want to write it together.
Tomorrow, three events will be scored – 200 Medley Relay, Women’s 1m diving, 800 Free Relay. The scoring portion of the meet starts at 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 22, 10 a.m.
RICHMOND, VA — It was February 20, 2010 when our “record run” of A-10 team championships ended. Finally, our chance to challenge the champs has arrived. We’ll land in Buffalo this afternoon in a new role – the challenger.
I intend to corral my thoughts this week to present you with behind-the-scenes insight into our experience. Please join us!